Parentage is an action between two unmarried parties who have, or are alleged to have, a child in common. Here are four important things your attorney wants you to know about parentage:
1. The first step in a parentage case is establishing paternity. "This can be done through a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP), which is usually signed at the hospital when the child's birth certificate is created, and includes the unmarried father's name," explained Erin Webster O'Brien, family law attorney. "An alleged father can also undergo a DNA test before establishing paternity. Until paternity is established, either voluntarily or through genetic testing first, the undetermined father does not generally have rights to the minor child."
2. The Parental Allocation Judgment is a legally enforceable court order which details the decision-making and parenting time allocated to each parent. "Without this judgment, the parties don't have rules to follow," said O'Brien. "A parent can often try to make inappropriate decisions or withhold parenting time, which isn't in the child's best interest."
3. It is important to realize that children are innocent in a parentage case and should have nothing to do with the legal action. "Children love and form attachments to both parents," added O'Brien. "Using the child as a pawn against the other parent creates issues with alliances and alienation that can be detrimental to a child."
4. An attorney can be a strong asset during a parentage case. "As an attorney, I am well-versed in the statutory requirements relating to the best interests of the child, and I assist with drafting legally appropriate and succinct documents with the relevant information for the court to consider," said O'Brien. "I also often serve as a buffer for the intense emotions that can arise in parentage cases. I provide objectivity that can be difficult for the litigants to maintain during such a personal situation."
Erin Webster O'Brien, Attorney
President, Will County Bar Association